Old Mutual

7 random thoughts on how to stay happily married


1. Marry the right person

Granted, this is not terribly helpful advice; it is however, the best advice out there, and thus worth repeating. Not only does the man you marry need to be the right person; he also needs to want the same things as you. Love, unfortunately, is not enough.

2. Learn to argue properly

According to almost all studies of relationships, this is by far the most important element of a successful marriage. The great Tolstoy concurred: “What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”


Try to minimise the accusatory use of the pronoun “you” in favour of “I” or “me”. So, “I feel angry and ignored when…” or “It upsets me when …”, rather than “You do this” or “You are always that…”. This approach really makes a difference to the direction a heated discussion takes. In addition, avoid a tone of contempt – which, according to research by the Gottman Institute, is the no. 1 predictor that a marriage is going to break down.

Pick your moment carefully to start a delicate discussion. For example, do everything you can to restrain yourself from haranguing him the minute one of you walks in the front door from work. And here’s a newsflash: (most) men are not telepathic. Although we would like them magically to know what it is we want or need, unfortunately and annoyingly this is generally not the case. They need to be informed, out loud, rather than just in your head or to your friends. So, instead of wishing your husband would unload the dishwasher and then spending all evening seething inside when he fails in this task he did not even know had been set, play fair: it is far more productive simply to ask him, in a studiedly neutral and non-judgemental voice, to do so.

3. Be polite to each other

So many couples are so rude to each other. Don’t be. Not only is it horribly undignified; it is also extraordinarily self-destructive. Say “please” and “thank you” as often as possible; at dinner parties, at least pretend to be interested in anecdotes you’ve heard a million times before; be kind and considerate in the same way you are with your friends.

4. Get the practicalities right

Never admit you know how to sew, iron or take out the rubbish. If at all possible, have separate bathrooms or at least separate sinks and/or loos, and employ a cleaner. Separate wardrobes are also a boon, if you happen to have money to burn. It is imperative that domestic precedent is established at the very beginning of the marriage. So if you want to implement a policy whereby you both agree to leave your mobile phones at the front door when you get home from work – that is, to prevent either of you answering phone calls or checking emails when you are supposed to be having dinner (or at least watching a DVD) together – then you need to do this immediately, ideally the day after you get back from honeymoon. Getting married is an opportunity for a new start.

5. Think of sex the same way you think of exercise

This particularly applies once you have been married for a while, and once you have children. Research from the Gottman Institute (again) shows the benefits of having sex even when (within limits) you do not necessarily feel like it.


Think of it in the same way as you might about forcing yourself to go to the gym even when a night slumped in front of the telly sounds far more appealing. It is good for you and you will feel much better afterwards, so just do it, even if only for health reasons. In all likelihood you’ll like it when you actually get down to it… Physical affection generally is essential.

6. Ignore stupid conventions

All couples are bonkers in their ways and habits, so as long as you’re both happy with your collective bonkers-ness, then do not be cowed by what other people think. If you both want to read your books at suppertime, then great, do it. If you want to phone each other a hundred times a day, or conversely if you want to maintain total radio silence until you see each other in the evening, great, do it. If one of you wants to leave a party early, and the other doesn’t, great, do it (as long as it’s safe for you to get home alone): there is simply no logic to the (strangely prevailing) theory that if one of you can’t have fun, neither of you should have fun. It makes no sense. The key thing, whatever the issue, is that you are both in agreement with each other; whether or not you are in agreement with the rest of the world is irrelevant.

7. It is the little things that matter

Never underestimate the importance of random acts of kindness. There is infinitely more romance in being unexpectedly brought a cup of tea in bed than in a lifetime of grand gestures.


Article by Francesca Beauman,
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